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No Cross, No Crown

By David L. Larsen
Philippians 2:5-11

The expression NO CROSS, NO CROWN has been widely used and among the early users was William Penn, founder of the Quaker colony which became Pennsylvania in his tract NO CROSS, NO CROWN published in London in 1669. How well it encapsulates the meaning of the Palm Sunday procession when Jesus comes the first time riding on a lowly donkey as prophesied (cf Zechariah 9:9) in contrast to his return in power and great glory riding on a majestic white horse (Revelation 19:11ff). First must come “Christ’s sufferings . . . and then the glory to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). Groans must go before glory. This pattern is seen everywhere in Scripture as in the life of Joseph in the Old Testament where we see that the way up is down. Joseph went down into Egypt, down into prison and then although his brothers did not recognize him was gloriously exalted. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Jesus insisted (Matthew 5:3). Three times he preached the sermon “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:22, Luke 14:11, 18:14). The principle is both embodied and exemplified in our Lord Jesus as set forth in our text. Paul addresses a situation of some local tension and conflict by citing the mind of Christ in one of the great teaching passages on Christ and his work. Doctrine is relevant! Embedded in his careful argument is an ancient Christian hymn exulting in Christ. Let us dig into it.

I .The Self-Emptying of Jesus (2:5-8)

The foundational fact is tht Jesus has always existed in very nature God, i.e. he is in the form and image of his Father (Colossians 1:15). The eternally-begotten Son of God has been that of God which has been seen (John 1:18). Although thus eternally in the Father’s bosom, Christ did not think his equality with God to be something he should grasp at or forcibly retain. He was not reluctant to empty himself and made himself nothing (7). He did not empty himself of his deity when he became the God-man (Wesley is wrong in “emptied himself of all but love”) but of all all the insignia and emblems of his glory. “He took the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (7). But his unimaginable condescension was but the first step down. “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! (8). He suffered indescribable brutalization (as Mel Gibson’s The Passion so vividly reminded us) and experienced the most ignominious death which can be experienced (which was almost anti-climactic in Gibson). He “tasted death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), was “made sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), “dying for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). The Apostle Paul describes his own self-emptying in the next chapter where he testifies to his counting all things as nothing, indeed as rubbish “that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8ff). All matters of pride and boasting, from his ancestry, his orthodoxy, his frenetic activity, his morality — he counted as “loss for the sake of Christ. Can we say with George Mattheson: “I lay in dust life’s glory dead/and from the ground there blossoms red LIFE THAT SHALL ENDLESS BE!” ?

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